Welcome to Buffalo, basketball fans. And for some of you, welcome back.
It’s been three years since the Queen City last hosted the NCAA Tournament and, as you may have noticed, it’s a different place. This is a city that is – you should pardon the expression – on the rebound. There was lots to do here in 2014, and there’s even more now. It’s worth taking the time to check the area out while you’re in town.
First of all, the arena where the games will be played is no longer First Niagara Center. This may be a little inside baseball (can we say that?), but KeyBank bought First Niagara last year and, once again, the arena’s name has changed. Not as big a deal for you as the whole thing was for us, but maybe you were curious.
We love basketball here, but this is hockey season and you’re in the midst of it. Not only do the Buffalo Sabres play in the arena, but since you were last here, the team’s owners – Terry and Kim Pegula – completed the HarborCenter across the street. It was under construction in 2014, but now features a nice sports bar/restaurant, a full-service hotel and two additional, regulation size hockey rinks. It’s emblematic of Buffalo’s renewal.
On that score, you may notice a livelier spirit here than in previous visits. This was a hard-luck, Rust Belt city, but is now roaring back. It shows up in construction sites around town and in the reawakening of a sense of optimism about the city’s possibilities.
You’ll find lots of great restaurants that will fit virtually any budget. Between the Metro Rail and bus service, it’s not hard to get around. There are taxis but, sad to report, no Uber or Lyft yet. We’re working on that. Maybe next time.
It’s not the best time of year to poke around Canalside, the waterfront district adjacent to the arena. Skating season is over, but it’s still too chilly just to chill there. Come back when the weather warms up. Still, check out the light show projected on the nearby grain elevators each evening. It’s pretty cool.
Architecture is a calling card here. You can see magnificent works of great American architects, including H.H. Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. Some are open to the public.
Our museums are inspiring. Around Delaware Park – designed by Frederick Law Olmsted – you’ll find the recently upgraded Burchfield Penney Art Center; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which is about to undergo a $100 million face-lift and expansion; and the Buffalo History Museum. It’s the only original building remaining from the 1901 Pan American Exposition, where President William McKinley was assassinated. The obelisk in Niagara Square, in front of City Hall, is a memorial to the slain president.
And on that subject, McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, was inaugurated at the Wilcox Mansion on Delaware Avenue. It is open for tours. If you have children with you, the Science Museum, just east of downtown, might be fun.
But you’re mainly here to watch great college basketball and, although we tend to focus on football and hockey here, this is a great sports town. In fact, our devotion to the Bills and Sabres offers an apt depiction of what it means to live here: Even after years of adversity (please don’t use the words “wide right”) this is a town that keeps the faith.
We hope you enjoy your time here, regardless of who wins in the six games Thursday and Saturday. We love showing off our resuscitated city.
And don’t mind the snow. Think of it as nature’s way of giving you an authentic Buffalo experience. Five days before the start of spring.